A tl;dr Haiku
Stop time to plan moves.
Still get blown up by a mage.
Reload, kill him first.
Pillars of Eternity is an isometric RPG for the PC by Obsidian Entertainment. The buzz-worthy detail about it is that it’s a Triple A title that was funded by over seventy thousand people through Kickstarter. So if this does well, we can expect a future where we give big companies money to produce a product which we will proceed to give them more money for. Neat. But if the games are good, it’s gonna be worth it, right?
Fighting battles in Pillars of Eternity bounces from interesting and engaging to frustrating and stupid. This mostly has to do with the A.I., if in combat, being incapable of finding a walking path for a character that’s anything other than a perfectly straight line. List of things that completely befuddle the A.I.: Trees, doors, doorways, enemies, allies, and particularly stubborn patches of air. Some of this can be avoided with a high level of micromanagement, but if I’m micromanaging my party, I want it to be because I’m doing cool things, not effectively babysitting a character who’s moving like he’s blitzed out of his gourd.
But putting aside those complaints, the overall gameplay is really very solid. There’s a ton of depth here. There are eleven different classes with unique abilities, all of which lend themselves to a different style of play. These styles can also be mixed fairly easily, seeing as the game sets the group size for my band of adventurers at six, rather than the RPG standard of four. I’m a bit mixed on this because while it can lend itself to advanced tactics and strategies, in my case it seemed more often than not to just devolve into a mosh pit of swords, lightning bolts, and obnoxiously potent friendly fire.
An area where Pillars is surprisingly thin is the variety of gear. Throughout the game, items get only marginally better. Any given special sword might have one or two perks over a run of the mill blade. This requires much more attention to be paid to the skills and abilities selected for each character; I’m fine with the different focus, but it is annoying when I hit a wall in terms of difficulty and have few alternatives to improving my combat strength outside of doing miscellaneous questing for a few hours.
I feel a bit bad for not using the stronghold feature more often while playing. It’s very detailed, in depth, but also completely out of the way and utterly unnecessary to progress through the game. Yeah, it’s cool that I can hire on soldiers and build battlements to protect a small city of my own creation, but the benefits gained from the stronghold are limited to two areas: stat benefits for resting at the stronghold and gold. The first one is useless because my stronghold is in the middle of nowhere. By the time I travel back to my questing area, my adventuring group is exhausted and needs to rest again, negating the point of the bonus. The gold is useless because gold, for the most part, is only used to upgrade the stronghold. The stronghold feature feels like a self-contained city management simulator stuffed inside a different game. I’m not saying it can’t be fun, I’m just saying it doesn’t jibe with the feel of the rest of the main quest line.
At least it counts as equity.
Graphics and Art
Pillars looks… all right, I guess. I don’t spend a lot of time inspecting character models as I’m usually too zoomed out to notice anything. Any given enemy or character’s model is more important as a token than it is as a visually impressive graphic.
The art style is very much in the vein of traditional dungeon-diving adventures: dirty, dangerous, and magical. Everything works well and the art style fits the theme of the plot well, so I’ve no real complaints in this department.
I’m pretty happy with the story and lore presented in Pillars. I’m also happy that I can virtually ignore all of it if I so choose. Which I did. But it was for the sake of role playing. After all, Headchucker McMurder, the Aumaua Barbarian, has little need to ever listen to what anyone says ever. He instead will simple choose the most aggressive option all the time. After all, there are many fights he would have missed out on if he had not threatened to decapitate someone at every given opportunity. The fun part here is that Pillars provides opportunities based on how I acted before. So a routinely aggressive approach gives Headchucker McMurder an aggressive demeanor, which the citizens of the world take into account when interacting with him.
Not everyone has the best judgement, though.
Role playing shenanigans aside, Pillars has a tremendous amount of lore and story to sift through for those seeking it. Immersion can be broken at points due to the game’s nature as a Kickstarter game. Financial backers were allowed to submit messages which would appear in game. So scenarios arise where one moment I am reading about the exploits of a dwarf ranger of the north, and the next I am reading about how “CoolioMaster77 iz l33t & > u.” Great caution is required to play through Pillars while maintaining immersion.
Pillars of Eternity gives a lot of bang for the buck. Unfortunately, it still costs quite a few bucks. There are three versions of the game: Hero edition, Champion edition, and Royal edition. They cost $45, $60, and $90, respectively. So no matter what, it’s not coming cheap. The higher costing editions are for those heavily invested in the project, including things like the soundtrack, concept art, and even a novella with supplementary stories about the game’s characters. I can’t speak for how good those extra materials are, as I am cheap and only got the Hero edition. Still, for what I played, and the replay value I have access to, I can’t say I paid too much. Pillars is a fun game, and one that’s easy to get sucked into to the point where it devours all your time. The flip side is, without getting way into it, it’s only a mildly interesting RPG with an interesting origin story.
Play Pillars of Eternity?
If you have a lot of time on your hands, sure.